Somewhat lost over the last three years as Seattle, Baltimore and the New York Giants have claimed Super Bowl rings is

how good San Francisco has been during that time. The 49ers have been to three consecutive NFC Championship games and came within a couple plays of replacing the Ravens as Super Bowl champions in 2012-13.

But the Niners have fallen just short all three of those seasons. And with contract expirations, the salary cap and other realities of the NFL, there has to be some desperation to close the deal.

So can San Francisco open Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara with a Lombardi Trophy claiming season? Or is this 49ers team destined to become the next team featured when ESPN or NFL Network celebrates the best teams to never claim a ring?

Al Sacco, a staff writer for,, and, shares his thoughts on where the 49ers are at and what it will take to get the job done.

Zoneblitz: San Francisco has a Super Bowl appearance and three NFC Championship games in the last three seasons, but fell short of the big game in 2013. How would you assess the season?

Sacco: The season had it’s up and down but ultimately was a failure. I understand a lot of team’s would trade with the 49ers in a heartbeat but three gut wrenching losses in three seasons with the championship in their sights is tough to take. This team has to win a title soon.

Zoneblitz: What’s your sense of the reports that have come out of discord between Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke and what that means for Harbaugh’s future with the team?

Sacco: Personally, I think it’s overblown. Sure, Harbaugh can be a little rough around the edges but he is one of the top 3 coaches in the league. I think the 49ers make it work with him and an extension is done next offseason.

Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s development to this point?

Sacco: Up and Down. From weeks 2-10, he only averaged 154 yards passing a game. He looked tentative and seemed to freeze in the pocket. He turned it around down the stretch but year 3 is going to be huge for him. That’s why I was unsure why the 49ers would give him a huge deal now. I still think he has something to prove in terms of his development.

Zoneblitz: Teams that win 36 games in three seasons aren’t going to have a lot of shortcomings. But the offense was middle of the pack in scoring and 24th in yards. What could be done to help boost those numbers?

Sacco: A healthy Michael Crabtree will help but the team has to get better throwing the football. They will address receiver in the draft, but Kaepernick also has to make that next step in his development.

Zoneblitz: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James are joined this year by Marcus Lattimore. What do you expect from Lattimore and how will the position shake out?

Sacco: I think Gore is still the man but I’m not sure how much of the load he can handle. His yards per carry dropped to 3.6 over his last 10 games and he’s played 56 games the last 3 seasons. I think they will work in Hunter and Lattimore to take some of the pressure off of Gore. I think both will see three or four touches a game. Lattimore will be more of a factor in 2015, if healthy.

Zoneblitz: Linebackers have been the strength of this team’s defense, but there are at least a couple issues this offseason. How is Navarro Bowman’s recovery going and how are the 49ers sitting at linebacker with him on the comeback and Aldon Smith having off-the-field issues?

Sacco: Bowman’s situation could be similar to Crabtree’s last season in that the team will get him back towards the end of the season. It’s going to have a huge impact though, as Bowman may have been the best defensive player in the NFL in 2013. The Smith situation is up in the air right now, but I think it would be an upset if he wasn’t suspended at least 4 games.

Zoneblitz: Carlos Rogers is gone. So are Tarell Brown, Mario Manningham and Anthony Dixon. Any concerns about the pieces that left?

Sacco: Cornerback will be an issue as the only player on the team who has started a game with the 49ers is Tramaine Brock and he’s only done that seven times. You get the feeling the 49ers feel like they can plug a certain type of corner in their system and they can be successful. Rookies could end up playing a big role in that group as well.

Zoneblitz:  Who on the roster do you see having a breakout season in 2014?

Sacco: Eric Reid. He was very good as a rookie last season but will now be looked at as a leader in the secondary. He could take a big step this year.

Zoneblitz: What’s the hierarchy in the NFC West? What do the 49ers have to do to get past Seattle and to make another Super Bowl appearance?

Sacco: Play them at home. I think if the NFC Championship was in San Fran the 49ers would have won. Home field is so important for the 49ers. The NFC West could be neck and neck again so every game will be important.

Zoneblitz: What are the 49ers going to do with 11 draft picks? Do you see any blockbuster moves up?

Sacco: I do. I think they will do something similar to what they did last year to select Reid. I could see a move up into the teens to take a WR like Odell Beckham. Beyond that, I think they will use the 11 picks to move around and get the prospects they like.

Zoneblitz: What else would you like to see 49ers do in the rest of free agency and then in the draft?

Sacco: I think they’re done in free agency barring an injury or something unforeseen. Too many of their own players are due extensions soon

Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sacco: I think that the pressure is on the team this year. They have come so close and could be losing some key players after the season (Crabtree, Mike Iupati). I think that to a man they feel like they have to win the Super Bowl.

Follow Al Sacco on Twitter at: @AlSacco49
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